Scripps Director Provides Key Scientific Perspective at Davos World Economic Forum


With the world’s fragile economies beginning to recover from the global economic crisis, all eyes were fixed on the Swiss city of Davos in late January for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

The five-day meeting gathered more than 2,500 of the world’s experts in banking and finance, as well as global political leaders and a select number of scientists and educators.

Among them was Tony Haymet, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, who provided scientific insights in areas where Scripps’ cutting-edge research contributes knowledge to topics around the planet.

“The World Economic Forum at Davos is a focal point for the greatest minds in business and government, and I was pleased to have been invited to share information about Scripps’ scientific contributions that are imperative for understanding many global issues,” said Haymet. “I’m also very grateful to a great donor family friend of Scripps, who wishes to remain anonymous, for funding my participation at the meeting.”

Formal sessions in which Haymet discussed recent Scripps research:

  • The state of the world’s fisheries. Based on the work of Scripps scientists Tony Koslow, David Checkley, George Sugihara, and NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center researchers, Haymet offered important perspectives about Scripps research on the health of the world’s fisheries, which supply a significant percentage of the planet’s human food supply. He also relayed information about overfishing and fish species that have been overexploited and a few others that are rebounding. In addition to Haymet, the panel at this session included Abdoulaye Wade, the president of Senegal; Brian Baird, U.S. Congressman from the State of Washington’s 3rd District; Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organization; Lucy Neville-Rolfe, executive director, corporate and legal affairs, of the UK supermarket chain Tesco; and Philippe Sands, a Queen’s Counsel and distinguished professor of law from University College London.
  • Ocean acidification. As society loads carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the oceans are taking up a certain portion of it. Building on the research of Scripps scientists Andrew Dickson, Victoria Fabry, Uwe Send, Jennifer Smith, Stuart Sandin, and others, Haymet described how the extra carbon absorbed by oceans at their surface converts to an acid form. The change in chemistry robs organisms such as corals and sea creatures that form shells of calcium carbonate, one of the main ingredients they need to develop. This could inhibit the proper growth of marine invertebrates and disrupt the ecosystems in which they reside.

  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. During a key multimedia “studio” session at the World Economic Forum, Haymet described and illustrated Scripps students’ recent voyage to the North Pacific Ocean Gyre, a location where plastic and other human-produced debris is accumulating. The findings from the expedition, led by student Miriam Goldstein, will help inform communities and world leaders about the scope and impacts of the problem, as well as policy responses.

  • Global viruses. In addition to their role in global pandemics, viruses also play fundamental parts in the functioning of the ocean environment. Haymet described research by Scripps marine microbiologist Farooq Azam and others that has revealed how marine microbes—at the micrometer scale—help structure the ocean’s ecosystems and response to global change.

  • Geoengineering. Haymet discussed prospects for a variety of mitigation strategies that involve manipulating the environment. Numerous Scripps scientists and Haymet have warned about the unknown consequences of such ideas, which range from seeding the oceans with iron to inducing greater carbon dioxide uptake to sequestering carbon in seafloor chambers.

Equally valuable were informal meetings with members of Congress, international leaders, and conservationists, especially on the fallout from the recent climate meetings in Copenhagen.  Haymet also renewed Scripps’ friendship with director James Cameron, a member of the Scripps Advisory Council, who packed the local Davos theatre near midnight for advertised 3-D clips of his smash hit movie “Avatar,” followed by much longer—and more interesting—new 3-D undersea footage from his expeditions.

Haymet also spent a day with the German Wissenschaftsrat (Council of Science and Humanities) chaired by Hilbert von Löhneysen  who invited large vessel operators to discuss the future of the German, European, and global blue water fleets, and the need for large multipurpose vessels, some ice capable.

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.